Man in a Pointed Hat by József Rippl-Rónai, £30,000 at Lyon & Turnbull.

Enjoy unlimited access: just £1 for 12 weeks

Subscribe now

Among the increasing number of eastern European pictures taking the attention at UK auctions in recent times were a couple of works that drew notable competition at two Lyon &Turnbull (26/25% buyer’s premium) sales in London.

One of the strongest bidding battles at the firm’s Modern Made auction on October 27 came for a painting of a man in a pointed hat by Hungarian painter József Rippl-Rónai (1861-1927).

Signed and dated 1905, the 2ft 2in x 19¼in (66 x 49cm) oil on cardboard was thought to be a self-portrait - something that would correspond with a work he is known to have exhibited the following year at a one-man exhibition in Kaposvár, the artist’s home town.

Rippl-Rónai is regarded as an important name in late 19th century and early 20th century Hungarian art. His auction record stands at a hefty £650,000 for a large and colourful oil painting (also on cardboard) sold at a Budapest auction in December 2021.

He studied in Munich before moving to France in 1887 to train in Paris under his compatriot Mihály Munkácsy. While there he met Paul Gauguin, Édouard Vuillard, Pierre Bonnard and Aristide Maillol, the latter with whom he developed a long-standing friendship.

Rippl-Rónai adopted something of a pan-European approach with his work incorporating elements of Art Nouveau, Fauvism, Expressionism and, in particular, the Post-Impressionism pioneered by the group of painters known as Les Nabis. Indeed he is sometimes known as ‘the Hungarian Nabi’.

He returned to Hungary in 1902 but continued to produce works in his distinctive style. The current picture was one such example.

It was referred to in the L&T catalogue as showing the artist’s use of ‘two-dimensional representation and contouring’ and evoking ‘a gentle intimacy and a fondness for decoration’. It was also said to convey Rippl-Rónai’s interest in materials and clothing.

While most of his pictures that emerge on the market today appear at auctions in Hungary, works come up occasionally at French, German, UK and US sales.

A group of five lots offered at Hindman in Chicago earlier in October, for example, included a pastel nude that made $22,500 (£18,455).

The portrait at L&T came from a private London collection and was pitched at £10,000-20,000. With the auction house reporting considerable interest from Hungary, it was carried to £30,000 - the highest sum for the artist at a UK sale since Christie’s sold a portrait of the artist’s future wife Lazarine Baudrion for £48,000 in 2007.

Croatian origin


Man in a Pointed Hat by József Rippl-Rónai, £30,000 at Lyon & Turnbull.

At L&T’s Avant Garde: Art from 1890 to Now sale the day before, a painting by Croatian artist Slavko Kopac (1913-95) drew equally strong interest.

Again, the artist was heavily influenced by his associates in Paris and, although plenty of works have been sold over the years at auctions in France, he has rarely appeared in the UK.

The artist who was born in Vinkovci studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Zagreb before heading to Paris, arriving shortly after the outbreak of the Second World War. Returning to his homeland within a year, he then went to Italy before heading back to Paris in 1948 where he remained for good.

After meeting and becoming friends with fellow ‘outsider’ artists Jean Dubuffet, André Breton and Michel Tapié, he helped found the Compagnie de l’Art Brut and remained the lead curator of the collection for 35 years.

In terms of subject and approach, his own work followed that of Dubuffet to some extent although commercially he has never been the same league (the auction record for Dubuffet stands at a whopping £16.8m).

The 21¼in x 2ft 5in (54 x 73cm) oil on canvas at L&T was titled Graffiti and was not unlike Dubuffet’s spontaneously created and busy canvases with segmented sections - although the latter’s can be much larger and more colourful.

Crucially, it also had an attractive date of 1949, meaning it was among the earliest works created on his return to the French capital. This coincided with a burst of creativity - he had his first exhibition in Paris in the same year, illustrated André Breton’s poem Au regard des divinités and began collaborating on the Art Brut collection.

Having passed through the London dealer Waddington Galleries in the 1980s, the picture was estimated at £5000-7000 at the October 26 sale.

While Kopac works have sold at around this level in French auctions on a number of occasions, the work here was of a type and date that rarely appears and proved to have substantial extra appeal to buyers.

With several bidders from Croatia vying for the lot, it sold at £38,000, more than double the previous highest price at auction for the artist according to